Matt and I haven’t been eating out that much lately. With how weird my appetite’s been, the hot weather and an uptick in responsibilities at home (yard work – I’m looking at you!) it really takes a special occasion to get me out of the house.
One such special occasion came in the form of an invitation to try out the new Tusks Bar and Grill in NE Calgary. The owner’s family has been cooking professionally for generations, so a restaurant celebrating foods from his family’s ancestry in Gujarat and his upbringing in Kenya seemed like a fun new entry into Calgary’s food scene and a great reason for me to actually put some jeans on and leave the house on a weeknight.
On the way over, Matt tried to extract a promise from me that we wouldn’t fall in love with this restaurant, since it is a good 25 minute drive from our place. I decided to reserve judgment until we at least got to take a look at the menu!
Fans of South Asian cuisines will find a lot of faves here to choose from alongside East African specialties. The menu was broken out nicely into appies, house specials, BBQ, biryani, taava & kadai, curries and starchy sides, all made to order with some including notes that they make take up to 30 minutes to prepare. I’m going to go ahead and disclose that we accidentally ordered an actual feast and the dishes you’ll see below were way too much for two diners to share. We were asked how spicy we wanted our food and when I nervously blurted “mild!” before Matt could ask for something hotter, our host laughed and brought him out a dish of chili paste. 10 points for saving our marriage, Tusks!
For starters, any time there’s paneer on a menu we need to incorporate it into at least one dish at Matt’s demand – er – request. I love paneer too, but am not willing to face down the barrel of Matt’s fork for the last bite when push comes to shove. This chili paneer ($17) was a generous portion with lovely, warmly spiced sauce, fresh vegetables and mild, tender paneer. Would definitely order again and it definitely seemed like it would make great leftovers if we’d left any behind.
Next was the beef kebab ($10). Think of the most nicely seasoned meatball with the most evenly textured ground beef – now make it bigger! These were a delight and I could tell after the first bite Matt was sad he had to pace himself to save room for the next dish.
Neither of us could recall having consciously eaten goat, at least not while in Canada, so we were thrilled to try these chops ($24) marinated with a secret family recipe, then grilled to tender perfection. They were similar in flavour to lamb, but the citrusy, zesty seasoning imparted by the marinade elevated these so high above my expectations. These were absolutely delicious and will be at the top of the list for us to re-order at our next visit! The masala corn was delicious, mildly spiced and filling, but the piri piri fries are where it fell a little flat for me. I’m not a huge french fry fan (I know, I’m a monster!) so maybe next time I’ll see about swapping in some rice instead!
The naan hit it out of the park for me as well. It was still scorching hot and fresh out of the tandoor oven, but I was too greedy to let it cool a moment and burnt my tongue. Honestly, it was worth it. This was the real deal, flaky and chewy at the same time. Love!
One of the house specials is fish kali, which takes 30 minutes to prepare – all the more reason to split an appie, if you ask me! For those of you who, like me, have never heard of this dish, it’s simply a filet (or two, in this case) of white fish that’s baked, then slathered in a spicy, smoky, lemony sauce. This was super delicious, but we were both already so full from the rest of the protein-heavy meal that it was a slog to get through it. I need to go back with a refreshed palate to have this again when I can fully appreciate that homemade sauce! Once again, a very generous portion for $23 and ideal for sharing.
Just when we thought we’d be able to escape with the seams of our pants intact, we were approached with our last course – Kheer, or Indian rice pudding ($4). This is not the cinnamon-laced, raisin-studded creature of my childhood. Think instead of coconut milk, cardamom and saffron. This takes hours to simmer and it shows in the soft, melt-in-your-mouth rice soaked with warm, nutty flavours. As with any traditional dessert, every family recipe is different. Tusks keeps theirs free of the usual almonds or pistachios to make it more accessible for customers with nut allergies.
We left Tusks (105-2220 68 St NE) feeling so full we never again wanted to darken their doorway and yet so delighted with our experience that we agreed we can’t wait to go back. From the meticulous preparation of the food to the kind and patient service, every step of this meal was a pleasure to undertake. It can be intimidating trying new cuisines, but I was pleased to see staff helpfully walking new guests through the nuances of their menu – even a couple who had quickly stopped in at first for takeout ended up sitting and enjoying a meal when they realized how much more enjoyable it would be to take their time with a beer and a curry. When a restauranteur is proud of their culture and wants to showcase the best of their childhood foods, it shows in every mouthful. This is a place to go for a terrific meal, try a few things you haven’t seen before and take your time over a bowl of rice pudding, even if it splits your jeans right down the middle.